Labatt Food Service, San Antonio, Texas, opened a new, 65,000-square-foot, $28 million meat cooking facility, producing barbacoa, brisket and tamales for fast food and restaurant customers.

“We’re cooking,” says Fred Silva, general manager of Direct Source Meats, owned and operated by Labatt. “It’s taken less than a year to build the plant, but the idea has been simmering for more than three years. This new plant was built in response to requests from our customers, who want to be able to consistently and safely serve the products they and their customers love, cooked to their own, unique recipe.”

“There have been so many high-profile food recalls and plant sanitation issues over the past few years, and as we went around looking at plants that could cook meats for customers, we really weren’t satisfied with what we saw,” Silva adds. “We decided the best solution was to build our own, where we could control everything from recipes to food quality to production to sanitation. The fully stainless-steel plant is equipped with a hygienic air system and even the lighting is important. There are no dark corners here – it’s very well-lit, and that’s one of the keys to quality, safety and sanitation.”

“At this new facility, we can meet the unique needs of each customer,” he says. “We have a test kitchen here that can replicate virtually anything that could be done in a food processing plant or in any restaurant. Our customers’ chefs can come in and spend a day with us, so that we can work with them on their recipes and decide together on the best way to produce the food they need.”

“The plant is supported by a research and development team composed of five food and animal scientists,” Silva adds. “Their expertise allows us to fulfill all customer requests and produce all organic or all-natural products to their specs. Antibiotic-free, GMO-free, clean labels – it’s all on the table here for our customers.”

The new facility can cook up to 4 million pounds of barbacoa, 9.5 million tamales (or 792,000 dozen) and 1.7 million pounds of smoked brisket a year on just one shift. With expansion capability already built in and an additional shift, those numbers can triple virtually overnight.

At the highly-automated Direct Source plant, huge kettles cook the barbacoa over four hours, after which it is packaged, frozen and shipped. One customer alone will sell more than 2 million pounds in a year through its foodservice outlets.

Tamales are made with specially-designed machinery, cooked in a steaming room and then are customer-ready, going to restaurants, school districts and other institutional customers.

Briskets can be smoked with wood designated by the customer – pecan, oak, hickory, mesquite – according to customer recipes. The brisket can then be prepared whole, sliced or chopped – with or without barbecue sauce -- depending on customer needs. Direct Source can also smoke turkey legs , breasts and pork for pulled pork.

A custom-built spiral freezer takes food from a cooking temperature of 180°F to 0°F in 60 minutes, sending the cooked product up a half-mile-long conveyor belt in a tall freezer, so that all sides of the product are exposed constantly to a -50°F temperature.

“We have tremendous flexibility built in,” Silva says. “We can also produce picadillo and carne guisada for Mexican food, shredded chicken, beans, soups, barbecue sauces, chili and gravies.”

Direct Source worked with Team Group, Euless, Texas, to design the plant, which Team Group then constructed over an 8-month period. The new plant is situated across the street from Direct Source’s raw meat processing facility in San Antonio, which preps and sells 13 million pounds of raw beef, pork and poultry a year.

Labatt Food Service is privately-owned and primarily operates in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arizona.